UEFA Women's EURO 2013 qualifying starts in earnest at the weekend with the four 2009 semi-finalists among those in action. UEFA.com sets the scene for the seven groups, from which the winners and best runners-up will join hosts Sweden in the final tournament, to be joined by three teams from play-offs involving the other second-placed sides.
Two teams that competed at UEFA Women's EURO 2009 in Finland – quarter-finalists Italy and Russia - are involved along with Poland, who narrowly missed out on the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup play-offs. Italy start next Saturday in Bosnia and Herzegovina while Russia visit Poland four days later. Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia begin in October.
Germany have won every qualifier they have played since 1999 and are bidding for a sixth straight European title, as they aim to bounce back from their home World Cup quarter-final exit and the retirements of players like Birgit Prinz and Kerstin Garefrekes. Their opening opponents, Switzerland, performed excellently to reach the World Cup play-offs and also in strong contention are Spain, who start in Turkey. Kazakhstan and Romania meet in the other weekend fixture.
Iceland, who made their finals debut in 2009, have already begun with a 6-0 defeat of Bulgaria but have their most important home fixture with the 17 September visit of two-time champions Norway, who reached the semis two years ago but had a disappointing World Cup. Belgium and improving Hungary play in a group that also involves Northern Ireland.
France, quarter-finalists in 2009, finished fourth at the World Cup and opened qualifying on Wednesday with a 5-0 win in Israel that will be followed next Thursday by a trip to the Republic of Ireland, who made the play-offs last time. Along with Ireland, starting on the weekend in Wales, the biggest threat to France looks to be Scotland, a team that missed out on the last finals on away goals in a play-off against Russia.
Two teams from the 2009 final tournament are involved – Finland, who reached the last eight as hosts, and Ukraine. The only September fixture sends Ukraine to Estonia, who have already lost 2-1 in Belarus, while Slovakia also fearture in one of three five-team sections.
England beat the Netherlands in the 2009 semi-finals and the pair are matched here. Both have games with Serbia this month, with England playing away before welcoming Slovenia, who surprised many by getting to the play-offs last time. Croatia complete the Balkan-flavoured group.
Denmark are the sole 2009 finalists involved, and are looking to improve on their group-stage exit there and a World Cup play-off disappointment. They start in Armenia, who came through the preliminary round with FYROM, and first play increasingly strong Portugal. The strongest challengers to Denmark are likely to be the Czech Republic, matched with Austria in Vocklabruck on 17 September.
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